Laura McNair, a Consultant who heads up Totum's specialist HR recruitment and operations team, explains the many good lessons that have come out of this difficult year, and that will inform a brighter future.

As the pandemic continues to play a significant role in all aspects of our lives it is sometimes a challenge to think too far ahead. It can be harder still to maintain a positive outlook on what the future might look like, even with the recent good news on the prospect of vaccines.

Personally, I am someone who, in the main, has a ‘glass half full’ attitude to life. I try not to worry about things that are beyond my control and instead work on the areas that I know I can improve.

I run two networking groups for Heads of HR and for Heads of Operations. These groups have met monthly since the first lockdown, sharing ideas and initiatives to help their firms navigate the challenging and uncertain times that Covid has presented. As the groups have got to know each other more, the sessions have also provided a support structure to the individual members in each group. I have felt privileged to be part of these groups and have taken a huge amount from them both personally and professionally.

Ten Lessons

Reflecting on this, I decided to identify some of the beneficial lessons that have come out of the past eight or so months – things that help clear the path forwards.

  1. Business services heroics – I have lost count of the anecdotes I have heard about the amazing contribution business services professionals have made to their firms this year across all areas – technology, HR, business development, finance, business management. The pandemic has surely put paid to the ‘fee earner’/’non fee earner’ divide for good. Let’s hope so. The best law firms of the future will be a combination of top lawyers and top business services professionals.
  2. Collaboration with my colleagues – Totum has always had a collaborative and team focused culture but the past eight months have seen this rise to another level. Supporting each other professionally and personally is so important and I feel lucky to belong to a business that really gets this.
  3. Genuine partnership with clients – the networks are a prime example of us all being in this together. We have helped each other out on many occasions in recent months and our relationships with our clients have never been better. We believe this will fuel more success in the future and it is incredibly rewarding.
  4. More limited opportunities have raised my game – when recruitment levels dropped in the first lockdown, I had to adopt a focused approach to secure the best outcome. Since then, I feel that I’ve finessed my approach to how I win and deliver projects. This will remain with me long after the effects of the pandemic subside and will hopefully benefit clients, colleagues and, of course, myself!
  5. Positives of hybrid working – this will surely never go away. The positives associated with working remotely as well as spending time in the office with colleagues (and in the future with clients) are inestimable. Everyone benefits.
  6. Health and wellbeing – almost every network meeting has started with a discussion on this subject and, as the pandemic has continued, the group has explored and undertaken many initiatives to maintain people’s morale and mental health. This conversation must surely never stop, even when the pandemic is finally under control. Several members of the HR networking group list this in their top priorities for Q1 in 2021.
  7. Pace of change – while this one isn’t easy to measure, it is clear that the past eight months has shown the professional services sector’s willingness to embrace change – and in so many ways: diversity & inclusion, use of technology, service delivery, innovation, remote working, etc. Firms now seem more willing than ever to try things new.
  8. Genuine leadership – leadership is surely easier in a normal market but we have heard how several firms have seen their leadership team (Managing Partner/Partners and business services Directors) rise to the challenge of the pandemic – and excel. Several have pondered whether this cohesive and inspirational direction would have ever come to the fore if it hadn’t been for the pandemic.
  9. Personal confidence – on a purely selfish basis, I have seen how the networking groups I set up have given real value to the participants. This has not only made me proud, but it has also given me an incredible sense of renewed purpose during a challenging period.
  10. Art of the possible – whoever would have predicted what we have been through just 12 months ago? But isn’t it amazing and heartwarming how people have risen to the challenge in such difficult circumstances? Whatever is thrown at us in the future, we now know that we can stand firm and adapt in the face of adversity.

As my Dad said when we were discussing the upheaval and change associated with the pandemic, “When the pieces of the jigsaw finally fall back on the table, they may no longer quite resemble the picture on the box.” I have never been one for jigsaws, but I am pretty confident that when the picture is reassembled, there will be plenty of touches of positivity, cheer and optimism. I look forward to 2021 with a smile on my face (under a mask of course).

If you would like to chat to Laura about market trends or opportunities across HR in the professional services sector, contact [email protected].

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